To believe or not to believe—that is the question. For children, the extent to which they believe in Santa Claus and the length of time that they believe in Santa Claus varies. Young children sometimes question their beliefs after influence from peers and older siblings, while others may believe well into an age that you no longer feel it’s appropriate. One thing is for sure, eventually the topic of Santa Claus and his existence is going to come up and knowing how to handle it can be difficult. The best advice? Be prepared.
Some experts suggest lying to your child about Santa Claus can damage the trust in your relationship. “Current and past research support the opinion that parents/caregivers are highly influential in a child’s moral development but remain divided on the harm or help of promoting the belief in Santa,” says Rise D. Kemper Hancock, LMFT, of Dignity Health/St. Joseph’s Behavioral Health. On one hand, “Lies can be hurtful and damage the trustworthiness of the parent/child relationship when they are uncovered,” she says. However, others argue that promoting the belief in Santa Claus to bolster the magic of the season won’t have long-term negative effects.
There is no age that is “best” to have this conversation, but one thing to keep in mind is a child’s typical development. Research suggests kids younger than seven use imaginative play to understand the world around them and most likely will not question the existence of Santa Claus unless influenced by others. Around age seven, things change. “These children begin to think more logically, understanding cause and effect. It is not that they stop believing, rather they want to understand why they believe,” Rise says.
Deciding when and how to have the conversation is important. If your child is going into middle school and still honestly believes, you may worry other kids will poke fun at them or the illusion will be ruined in a traumatizing way. For siblings, sometimes it’s best to reason with the older one before doubt spreads to younger kids in the home. It’s helpful to have an idea of what you want to say going into the conversation. You may wait for them to approach the topic with you, but when that happens, it helps if you’ve already thought it through.
Consider letting your child lead the conversation and avoid comparisons to other families. Instead of focusing on the existence of Santa Claus, focus on your child’s beliefs and explore how those beliefs and family traditions can create positive experiences for learning values and morals.